Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eat local? Like kale!

I bought a mess of kale.

It was in the middle of butter-white flour-sugar season and I felt compelled to do something really healthy for myself and my family. I remembered having a spicy kale dish with peanut butter sauce two autumns ago at a potluck celebrating eating foods grown within 50 miles. Going against that principle, regretfully, I bought a 1-pound plastic bag of prewashed and chopped kale greens. Wouldn't you know, when I got home, I couldn't find my cookbook with the recipe in it? Searching for one like it, I found two recipes for other kinds of dishes that I tried this week and used up the kale. I say "I tried" when I should say "My husband made them." I've been sick with the respiratory crud that seems to have everyone down. No better time than to eat nutrient-rich leafy greens, and in hot soup, too! Thanks for picking up the slack, honey!

A champion of local foods shared the recipes with the newspaper for which I used to work. Susan Sauter is a retired market gardener of USDA-certified organic vegetables, dabbling for a time in cooperative farming. She lives on a farm in my county where her husband raises grass-fed beef. I fear I would disappoint her if I told her I used store-bought kale in her recipes. But I meditated on that while I ate my soup tonight.

I did purchase local Italian link sausage for the soup recipe, but my choice was easy because the store carried that product. Would I have driven out of my way to buy just the sausage because it was local? No. Many times we get eggs from a guy in town. But when he doesn't have enough, such as when his free-range hens are molting, there's nothing wrong with getting a dozen from the grocery store until he is able to supply us again. And there's a potato farmer right out the road from me, where I would purchase many pounds of local-grown spuds if I could store them and use them before they went to waste. Sometimes being a good steward of your resources means cutting corners or letting things slide. 'Tis nobler to burn less gasoline in one trip to a superstore than on several stops for the sake of buying local. 'Tis also nobler to buy 5 pounds of potatoes at a time at the superstore because that is what your family of three will reasonably use than the minimum 50 pounds from your neighboring farmer and throw away more than half of them when they rot before you can eat them. I respect the goal of consuming locally produced goods to support my neighbors and to know the origin of what I put in my body. But I can do only so much. The mantra in any movement, green or not-so-noble, should be "progress not perfection." Sure, strive for perfection, but don't beat yourself up when you make only a small change or two. It all adds up. Do what you can now. Try to do more or better next time.

I recommend these without reservation and with just minor adapting.



KALE, POTATO AND SAUSAGE SOUP
2 2/3 cups chicken stock
2 large potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
16 ounces any kind of local link sausage (Susan uses hot Italian; I used Demus' mild Italian and it was still pretty hot)
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups shredded kale

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, saute onions, sausage (cut into 1/2-inch chunks), and pepper. Add the stock, potatoes and kale.
Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are softened. Serves 6.
We ate ours with buttered toasted sourdough bread.





KALE PIE
9- to 10-inch pie or tart crust, pre-baked
4 cups coarsely chopped kale (or chard) leaves, the tough rib removed (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil (Canola is a weed!)
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large local eggs (my husband would probably add one more)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese *See note.
1/2 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add kale; cook over high heat until wilted and somewhat tender but still bright green, about three minutes. Drain. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently until turning golden brown, about 6 ninutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Add feta, half and half, kale and onion mixture. Stir to mix and pour into the prebaked crust. Bake until the center of the pie is firm, 40-45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool 10-15 minutes.

*Note: I had only 1/3 to 1/2 cup of feta. I made up the difference with some mild-and-melty Havarti and some shredded Parmesan. It was a good blend.

I think this dish would go great with Hunt's Original Recipe Stewed Tomatoes, but we didn't have any.

Adapted from "The Gardeners Community Cookbook"





GREENS IN PEANUT SAUCE
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound kale or collards, chopped (8 cups)
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter, chunky or smooth
1-2 teaspoons hot water

Pick over the kale, removing its tough ribs. Plunge it into a large pot of boiling water until it is slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain -- a salad spinner works great for this, just watch you don't scald yourself.

In a large saute pan, saute the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil.

Add the spices and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the greens and stir to coat.

Stir together the hot water and peanut butter and add to the pan, stirring to coat.

Slightly adapted from "Simply In Season"

A footnote: Surely a corollary to the green movement is not wasting anything, especially food and, it follows, money. So plan meals every week, paying attention to using up ingredients before they spoil. I knew better than to make a huge pot of stewed kale and try to make my family eat it. Instead, I planned two smaller meals that were different. If they didn't like one or both (and they scarfed both down, almost so fast I nearly didn't get photos for this blog), then I didn't have a lot of leftovers to either choke down or throw away.

The soup used up not only the last of the kale, but our potatoes and an open box of chicken stock. For the pie, I didn't have a whole cup of feta but I didn't go buy another package: I used other cheeses I had on hand. (Incidentally, using up the scrap of Havarti leftover from Christmas morning breakfast rolls. The majority of the feta having been used in Christmas Eve appetizers and a Christmas Day salad.) That's where having experience in the kitchen and at the plate comes in handy. Likewise, I didn't have half and half, nor do I keep regular coffee creamer on hand. I did however have a carton of whipping cream for another recipe. I used ... I mean, I instructed the husband to use, 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and 1/4 cup of 1 percent milk. Don't buy something when you need just a bit of it for one recipe and the rest of it will likely go to waste. Educate yourself (by reading blogs like this one) and substitute. Plan to use it up. Experiment.

Take this job and ... LOVE IT!!

It was not without good reason I neglected my food blog during the biggest food holidays of the year: I was wrapping my full-time commitments to my employer. Now that I am happily self-employed, I resolve to update more regularly.

Here is the blog I have posted elsewhere concerning the major change I made at the end of 2007.

The African impala can jump up to 10 feet in the air, but a wall only 3 feet tall is needed to keep it confined to a wildlife preserve. An impala won't jump when it can't see where its feet will land.

I don't wanna be an impala.

Those of you who know I have struggled to make a life-changing decision this fall are no doubt curious how it turned out.

I resigned my full-time newspaper job effective Dec. 21.

My reasons are personal, financial (specifically rising gasoline prices), spiritual and professional.

I am guilty of getting into a comfortable rut, of having tunnelvision. But since this summer, I've grown up, and I've done a personal inventory. I'm turning my attention to things of eternal importance and consequence: raising my daughter, for one.

Making a living – especially the 30-mile one-way commute – was getting in the way of living my life to the fullest, doing what I really want and need to be doing with my life. Worse, my day-to-day job duties were no longer my passion. I did some writing but a lot more managing, editing, organization, customer service and page production. As far as advancement at that company, I had hit a glass ceiling. I am a literary journalist, (and maybe a closet mystery-writer.) I have ideas for books. I have a feeling there's something more out there for me. To find out, I first have to shed the shackles of full-time commitment to one employer, to the false sense of security that comes from good bennies like fully-paid health insurance.

My friend Marian wrote to me "It isn't what you do in life, it's who you are," quoting Michael Gates Gill, author of "How Starbucks Saved My Life".

I am still a writer. (I'm also looking for work, hint-hint. Though I have two projects waiting for me, including continuing to write my column for the newspaper I'm leaving.) I'm also a mother and a Christian – two jobs that had sorta taken a backseat to my "career."

It can be frightening to face giving up your livelihood and your identity. I had to step out on faith. My friend Karen describes it as walking away from the security of the trunk toward the flimsy tip of the branch to give God the chance to hold me up. Lately, every communication I've been getting from God – whether it's His tangible provisions in my life or a message from my pastor or Sunday school teacher – has reinforced this mantra: Fear not, fear not, fear not, fear not.

I am at great peace with my decision.

The day after I gave notice I felt for the first time what I've heard described as "lightness of being." (My friend Pam joked that it comes in a bottle. Maybe, but do I swallow it or color my hair with it?)

"We walk the way we're pulled," Marian heard Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat Pray Love," tell Oprah.

In October I decided to work through the end of the year because of taxes and impending bad weather. But I've since realized how appropriate it is to make this change during Advent. I can't say it any better than the devotion writer: "Advent, which means 'arrival', marks the breaking in of the holy on the everyday. It is the story of deliverance from what we have brought upon ourselves. It is hope. It is anticipation. It is light tearing through the darkness."
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